"You own it, you better never let it go
You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow
This opportunity comes once in a lifetime "
Those were the words from the Eminem song I sent the CEO of a startup before their meeting with the Prime Minister, as I have often done in the past. My role as Dealmaker for the Department of International Trade's Global Entrepreneur Programme is to bring to the UK the HQs of outstanding companies. In this capacity we often have these companies meet incumbent Prime Minister over the years. Indeed, sometimes in small cosy rooms with business giants such as Richard Branson. The gratitude of the humble tireless entrepreneur is a key motivator. And having myself at the start of my journey been in this position, use that experience.
For many, often young inexperienced CEOs, these meetings are not easy and they appreciate experienced insights. A typical meeting may well be a small room, with giants of politics and business - from the head of Softbank's Vision fund to the Prime Minister, Chancellor, and Sec of State for International Trade.
On top of that, your probably the smallest company there - rightly at the end of the table, and as sometimes happens one of only a couple of women, one of only a couple of ethnic minorities.
I’d been in this situation many times thanks to my role at 29 on the UK India Roundtable advising the Prime Ministers of both countries on closer ties. And had written a book for women entrepreneurs, Our Turn, who so often in these situations are dominated by ‘Alpha Males’ – especially in finance. I was adamant this would not happen to any of my companies in the room over the years – they would give themselves the best chance to shine.
My rules from my experience over 20 years working with UK, US and Indian Governments are below and as co founder of TiE UK the UK Chapter of the global entrepreneur mentoring organisation founded and supported by the bjggest names in global tech.
On top of that the PM and Government are energised and genuinely keen to keep the UK at the top of the global tech league tables.
Rule 1: You are an equal
In that room, I don’t care yours is a smaller company – do not be shy. If you’re at the end of the table, move your chair to a more visible point – end of a table is far better than anywhere else, save right next to or opposite the PM. Too often, as I've documented based on academic research in my book, shrinking violets never bloom.
Rule 2: Do not criticise your host
Yours is not to patronise or advise or criticise. Some entrepreneurs are arrogant and their own worst enemies -my job being over years to save them from themselves through sound advice. You never get results any other way. Yours is show you have something special. Time to lead – focus on the true goal – the best for your company. Be likeable by not being a pain in the ass. The number of patronising arrogant people I have seen in this scenario blow it (not in a good way).
Rule 3: One Goal. Simple
What is your objective? Is it to get Government to prototype? To work with you to help get insights on how you solve problems? Whatever it is, make sure the ‘ask’ is clear, in one sentence. It allows follow up by people who do the hard work of co-ordination and making things happen. In companies and Government this happens through assistants and directors and managers. They need clarity. Entrepreneurs rarely get this. They think Governments just write special deals and I've seen many a founder look a fool as they explain there's is the only solution and a special closed door deal is warranted.
Rule 4: Speak about 20% of the way in
Don’t be the first or the last. Attention is still strong at 20% of the way through. But don’t be a time hog or cocky.
Rule 5: Speak with passion
This speaks for itself. It is infectious.
Rule 6: Know the hosts needs – what they can and cannot do
Government does not write blank checks. Everybody thinks they should be the only one without competition to pitch to Government. That’s not how it works. You need to know and research that the PM knows on your subject. Ask for something Government can give – work with you to investigate the opportunity, you can inform, educate across Departments.
Rule 7: Make clear the urgency, competition
As with all sales, let the host, for instance the PM, know the urgency due to competitors to the UK.